Live to eat or eat to live? That is the question.
Well, we all have to do the latter and I confess to love eating; cooking and eating are two of my favourite things (right Mum?!).
I recently read an article in the Guardian (which my friend Leah sent to me) about the diversity of Ecuador’s natural larder, and how it’s “snapping at Peru’s heels as a foodie destination…(with) young chefs happy to mix things up at a new wave of restaurants”.
A visit to an Ecuadorian market is indeed inspirational. Aisles are laden with baskets of colourful fruit, sacks of spices and counters piled high with legs of beef, chickens and fresh fish. There are so many esoteric things to wonder at (and sometimes be revolted by!).
Traditional Ecuadorian food tends to be simple but tasty. In the Andes you’ll get meat of some sort (pork, beef or chicken), served with rice AND potaoes, and usually a finely chopped salad and menestra (lentils). On the coast seafood and fish invariably come with patacones (squashed and fried rounds of “verde” – unripe plantains), lentils and rice. Soup always precedes the plato fuerte (main dish) and aji (home made chilli sauce) is served alongside.
In the bigger towns and cities you can find international cuisine, but in smaller towns it’s unlikely. Sadly fast food (McDonalds and KFC) is infiltrating the culture, and seen as rather “cool”. Ecuador has it’s own version of fast food – salchipapas (chips with fried frankfurter) – beloved by students.
Vegetarians may find Ecuador a bit exasperating, as the concept of vegetarianism is not universally understood. If you ask for something without meat (“sin carne”), Ecuadorians usually take this as “without beef”, so you may still end up with chicken or pork on your plate.
I pretty much eschew meat these days, on health and ethical grounds. I’m sure that the big industrial food producers like Pronaca intensively raise animals, and I’ve seen the poor creatures at the country markets; chickens trussed up together more dead than alive. I’m ok with fish (its plentiful and inexpensive) and fruits and vegetables are abundant, ranging from the commonplace to the exotic. More and more though I cook at home, and perhaps splurge at somewhere fancy like Zazu once a month.
By the way, when eating at an Ecuadorian reataurant fellow diners will always wish you buen provecho (enjoy your meal!). I really like that.